Cleansing Comfort

As important as functionality is to showers and baths, there’s a lot more for designers to consider when selecting these products. Today’s consumers also want design elements that add comfort, relaxation, accessibility and luxury. Integrating technology is also critical to the latest products being developed. So say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“Creating a spa retreat at home, especially in the master bath, continues to be very popular. Consumers are consistently finding inspiration from small boutique and luxury hotels that suggest interesting ideas for the home environment,” says Lou Rohl, CEO and managing partner at ROHL in Irvine, CA. “The most common shower style, meeting Universal Design principles, is the “no-threshold” shower enclosure, also known as the European-style shower enclosure,” he notes, adding that the design not only allows for easy access, but also more customization.

Katrina Aure, marketing director for Anaheim, CA-based Aquatic, says there is an ever-present need for features that are comfortable and accessible. Aquatic has begun to incorporate accessibility features into everything the company does, she says, from lowering the threshold to adding a seat to the space. “It’s one of those features you can include that doesn’t hurt anything but only enhances everything,” she explains.

Aure agrees that personalization is important as well. “People are moving more and more toward customizing their space to make it feel like their own,” she notes. One way that Aquatic combines the desire for ease and accessibility with customization is through the use of shower bases.

Medium to high-end homes are often including features that someone would typically have to go to a spa to enjoy, according to Pat Jarvis, v.p./sales & marketing, North America, for Dornbracht Americas, Inc., based in Duluth, GA. For instance, the ATT Horizontal & Vertical Shower systems from Dornbracht, allow users to choose pre-programmed, professionally designed scenarios for their shower experience. In the future, says Jarvis, users will be able to create their own programs on these systems.

As a variety of materials are explored, the tub is sometimes becoming an artistic statement as well. Michael Zimber, founder and president of Stone Forest in Santa Fe, NM, says the firm’s stone tubs are often featured by designers as free-standing sculptures in the bath. “Think of the bathroom space as a gallery in which to feature a functional stone/water sculpture,” he adds.

Noah Taft, senior v.p./marketing and sales for California Faucets in Huntington Beach, CA, says, “Designers understandably focus on what is visible to the eye, but the technology and quality of the valve behind the wall is what makes the difference between a mediocre shower experience and a luxurious spa one. Thermostatic shower systems, as opposed to dinosaur-age pressure-balance technology, should always be specified.”

 

PERSONAL STYLE

The variety of materials available to create tubs and enclosures in many shapes and styles makes the desired personalization of space easier to achieve. The versatility of many materials allows for designers to create a specific vision with products that fit every need.

“We are seeing people becoming more comfortable with tubs that aren’t always ceramic/porcelain,” says Javier Korneluk, U.S. managing director for Laufen North America in Miami, FL. “Composites have come a long way – they are lighter and easier to mold into contemporary shapes,” he adds. At Laufen, the firm sees a desire for both organic shapes, like its Palomba collection, and more rigid, contemporary shapes, such as that offered by its new Kartell by Laufen collection.

“Solid surface materials and natural materials, in clean, contemporary, yet organic shapes seem to have taken hold in tubs,” notes Kimberly Frechette, eastern regional sales manager for ThermaSol in Simi Valley, CA. She adds that clean and contemporary looks are still king.

Zimber sees the sculpting bathtubs in styles that run the gamut from traditional “old world” to contemporary. He believes clients’ tastes are moving from iconic materials such as Italian carrara marble to warmer stones, including limestone and travertine, and siena silver gray marble.

Eric Phelps, v.p./sales – North America for North Charleston, SC-based Victoria + Albert, says there is a demand for symmetrical designs, and a move away from footed tubs in favor of baths that go all the way to the floor.

Transitional styles are popular, as they go well with both contemporary and traditional design, says Luky “Jade” Ng, Axor NYC Design Studio Manager for Hansgrohe USA in Alpharetta, GA. “An average home will typically have some mix of old and new, so demand is high for products that are compatible with both,” she says. While Gold is a trend in fixture color this year, she notes that Chrome is still the best selling due to its timeless elegance.

A current trend is the Rose Gold finish that is taking the jewelry industry by storm and has moved to other industries, including kitchens and bathrooms, says Jarvis. Dornbracht’s recently launched finish, Cyprum, made from copper and 18 carat gold, addresses this trend. “This rose-gold finish is more subdued than Gold or Polished Brass and has a richer type feel that consumers are currently looking for,” he says.

Eric Moore, interior designer at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, WI, says that “rectilinear” is the current dominant tub shape trend. “Consumers want to maximize whatever space they have, and this allows them to do so,” he states. As for color, White is still popular but there is a move toward Biscuit as well, he says, complemented by Brushed Nickel fixtures.

In shower doors, frameless options like the Kohler Levity offer a clean appearance because of the dual sliding glass panels. “This feature allows the shower or bath to be the center of attention instead of the door,” he says.

Rohl says tub shapes are either very circular or very linear, deep with high sides, and sculptural, almost as if they have been carved out of the material. Shower enclosures have architectural motifs, like arches and barrel vaults, and are open to the ceiling, and sometimes even to outdoors. For enclosure materials, he notes that glass tiles and natural elements, such as ceramic “wood” and river rocks, are being used in calming colors like greys, ocean blues and sea greens, as well as pure whites. Popular fixture finishes include Gold-tone Brass, Copper and Polished Nickel.

Custom tile is one way people create their own look in the space, says Aure, noting that Aquatic offers a subway tile design in its DuraCore fiberglass reinforced showers, which creates an upscale effect, but is durable and easy to maintain.

In tubs, Aure says people are looking for all of the comfort features of bathing, with an updated design. “People are still enjoying that sleek, streamlined effect but are wanting to see a little more softening,” she says. “They are looking for a product with a clean, but not rigid, feel to it.”

 

LOWER FLOW

The amount of water used by a shower or tub is on the minds of manufacturers as new regulations are implemented and savvy consumers show increasing concern over these issues.

“Clearly water conservation is a big issue and concern,” says Korneluk. “Homeowners don’t always ask, but architects and designers will.”

Flow rates, flush rates and overall gallon usage are very common topics of conversation in production, sales and installation, says Frechette. “Water conservation and new regulations in a number of states are positively driving the development of new products in all market segments, particularly with manufacturers in western states struggling with water issues but also with a few states in the East concerned about the future of water availability,” she says.

Water conservation concerns are also encouraging manufacturers to develop new solutions that decrease water usage, while still giving homeowners the showering or bathing experience they desire.

Moore says, “Consumers are becoming very aware of water conservation and want products that not only save water, but do so without sacrificing power and performance. This demand from consumers has helped to push manufacturers to create aesthetically beautiful products that outperform their predecessors all while saving water, and, in turn, money.”

“Everyone wants to use less water, but no one wants their experience in the shower to suffer – meaning they want to feel the same water effect they received with a larger amount of water,” says Jarvis. He adds that it is a huge challenge for manufacturers like Dornbracht to create systems that have the same showering effect with only 2 to 2.5 gallons of water as opposed to 3 or 4 gallons.

“The California Green Code on faucets and the under 50-gallon water capacity movement in California is challenging manufacturers to develop functional designs,” adds Phelps.

 

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

Changing technology plays a role not only in the way products are controlled by consumers, but also in how those products perform, and the overall experience of the user. Designers need to understand how technology has been incorporated into the shower or tub to improve its performance. It is also important to integrate digital controls and electronics into the space to create the relaxing spa-like environment people desire, while maintaining simplicity in how these features are operated.

“One of the key trends we’re seeing is home automation – the usage of electronics throughout the home,” says Jarvis. “However, one of the challenges we are noticing is that the more involved the electronic product is, typically the more complicated it is to use. We’ve seen a lot of pushback from consumers on overly complicated electronics.” With Dornbracht’s Smart Water concept, the user can preset water temperature and pressure, so that when the button is pushed the tub fills to the exact temperature and amount of water desired. “This is where the digitalization trend is going,” he says.

“People want easy-to-use controls that help create a spa-like experience,” says Taft. “Full volume control and the flexibility to run multiple devices separately or simultaneously are critical,” he adds, noting that these cannot be achieved with pressure-balance systems. California Faucets currently offers four different StyleTherm valves that allow for creative design and flexibility in the shower environment.

Ng adds that consumers want universally designed controls that are simple to use, since ease of operation ensures the product is suitable for anyone. “Thermostatic controls in the shower mean the user no longer has to find the right temperature each time they turn on the shower,” she says. Other products gaining in popularity, according to Ng, are those that feature push buttons to change the handshower/showerhead spray type and turn the shower system on or off, like the Raindance Select S 240 showerhead by Hansgrohe.

“As smartphone technology becomes more readily available, we all have become familiar with – and more or less accustomed to – using touch screens for everything,” says Frechette. “It’s natural that this technology transitions to the bathroom as well, on any and all electronically controlled products.”

Integrating technology into the bathroom is an easy way to achieve the customization homeowners want, says Moore. “Consumers are also looking for more digital thermostatic valves in the shower, like our DTV Prompt. They want everything with an easy-to-use, intuitive interface without the clutter of multiple levers and knobs on the shower walls,” he adds.

 

SPACE CONSIDERATIONS

Long gone are the days when a shower/tub combination was the standard. Today, freestanding tubs are used as a focal point, and showers occupy their own space, sometimes replacing the tub altogether. A lot of the configuration depends on available space, say manufacturers, and designers have plenty of options even with a smaller area to work with.

“Comfort and personal time to relax are modern day luxuries,” says Ng. “Homeowners who have the space for a tub typically install one that is separate from the shower. When that is not possible, a walk-in shower or wet room is ideal for creating a larger space to move around in,” she says.

“Sixty-inch baths are still the most common for most bathrooms, with shower spaces taking precedent in the overall arrangement of space, where possible,” says Frechette. When space permits, “larger freestanding baths are the preferred eye candy and a larger shower with relaxation amenities is the workhorse of the modern bathroom,” she adds.

Rohl notes that today’s tubs are sleeker and more sophisticated in appearance. They are designed for solo use, he adds, unlike the enormous jetted tubs of the 1970s and ‘80s. Showers, on the other hand, have increased in size, often designed for at least two people, with multiple showerheads, steam capabilities, benches and handsprays, he says.

Phelps notes that at Victoria + Albert, size trends for bathtubs are moving in two directions. “There is a definite requirement for larger, 5'-plus freestanding baths. If a consumer opts for a freestanding bath, they want it to be a focal point in the bathroom,” he says, citing the company’s Traditional 68" York, 70" Marlborough and 70" Modern Barcelona baths as examples. “But, on the other hand, don’t forget that a freestanding bath can add value in much smaller spaces.”

 

TRUE VALUE

When the economy took a downturn, consumer attitudes shifted, and with them so have trends. As things recover, the change in attitude has remained, or at least taken a slightly different form.

“The attitude toward the home has shifted from ‘bigger is better’ to products that are intelligently designed for smaller spaces,” says Ng. “Consumers expect products that reflect this cultural change so trends in products will follow suit.”

Jarvis says that until the recession, it was “in vogue” to show off what you had, particularly with luxury brands of the plumbing industry. “Consumers wanted the coolest, latest, most expensive items that they could show their friends at parties,” he explains. While that trend subsided for a few years, he believes it’s back in a different way. “Consumers still want to show off what they have, but they also want value – not just the most expensive product.” This includes being able to demonstrate what the products do, and why they are better than products everyone else has in their homes.

Aure agrees, but adds that it’s also important to add value and luxury at every price point.

Taft concludes, “While there has been an obvious uptick in home sales, people are still a bit gun shy, opting to specify luxury fittings, but not at any price.” He cites the success of California Faucets’ StyleTherm shower systems as evidence of this trend. “The average consumer in the decorative market no longer has to settle for inferior technology because the superior technology is too expensive,” he says.

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